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Portable, prefabricated homes constructed inside warehouses could help ease housing shortage, builders say

Apr 06, 2023Apr 06, 2023

As building costs soar, some builders are seeing increased demand for smaller, cheaper homes — and for many customers, that means portable, factory-built houses.

Master Builders Tasmania, the peak body for professional builders in the state, expects the construction of pre-fabricated and modular homes to boom over the next decade, and builders are already shifting into the market.

Builder Steve Simeoni has just expanded his Launceston company to include the construction of portable homes in a warehouse in the city centre.

"The cost is a massive difference, it's under one roof and materials are readily available," he said.

Some portable homes cost half that of a conventional build and can be finished in weeks.

For builders, the work is all inside so there is no weather to contend with.

Once finished, the homes are moved to the site and wired and plumbed in.

"We need to get roofs over people's heads, and this is the way to do it and an affordable way to do it," he said.

Tiny Homes Tasmania's Jason Zadow has been turning 20 and 40-foot shipping containers into small homes for the past five years.

"This year has really taken off," he said.

"We've got six on the go at the moment that we're working on and we've got about another 21 on order and another 10 in the pipeline."

At the age of nearly 80, Meg realised she was "running out of money" and needed to take the drastic step of living in a caravan. She is just one of thousands of older Australian caught in a similar situation.

Mr Zadow said many people opting to live in a tiny home were doing so to reduce maintenance costs and clutter.

"Rent is going to cost a lot of money at the moment [and] interest rates are going up, so people are trying to find alternatives to live a life where they don't have to be forking out money for the house they're living in," he said.

Master Builders Tasmania chief executive Matthew Pollock said portable and prefabricated homes were an "important piece of the puzzle" to meet Tasmania's expected future housing demand.

"We can start making real inroads into providing affordable housing across the state," Mr Pollock said.

"It's repeatable and scalable.

"It's construction in a controlled environment. It means that you're not subject to weather delays. That can reduce the cost of construction.

"A manufacturing plant provides you with quality assurance as well, and we see that in other jurisdictions."

Mr Pollock said the construction of pre-fabricated homes had taken off in other parts of the world and he expected it to do the same in Tasmania over the next decade.

"Over time we should expect to see that pre-fabricated housing and modular homes will form a much larger part of new housing construction in the future," he said.

"I think moving forward it's going to be a large piece of the puzzle, particularly when it comes to delivering on the state government's affordable and social housing targets."

In January, there were 4,556 Tasmanians on the social housing waitlist.

Greater Hobart is "overloaded" with short-term rentals, making up 5.65 per cent of the area's residential rental market, a report finds.

Tasmania's Deputy Premier Michael Ferguson said he believed there was potential for Homes Tasmania or one of its housing partners to look at using portable homes to reduce the waitlist.

"Homes Tasmania has got the independent capability of assessing this for their clients' needs, and also the community housing providers are in the same category, they can also take advantage of this," Mr Ferguson said.

"This is about a solution that provides more supply into a market that's calling for it."

Another hurdle for the industry will be ensuring there is enough vacant land to put the homes on.

"We do have, through the planning system, significant availability of land that's zoned residential," Mr Ferguson said.

"What we've got to do is get those owners of that zoned residential land to subdivide and bring it to market."

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